Welcome to Lent. Lent is a normal event for some of us and new to others, so I want to take a moment and help us understand what Lent is and why we do it. The word Lent is short for Lenten which describes the spring season. Traditionally the Christian Church has taken the 40 Days of spring leading up to Easter as a time of reflection and focus on Jesus. With that being said Lent, then is where we will take the 40 Days before Easter and spend extra time in prayer, devotion, and fasting to prepare our hearts and minds to remember and celebrate Jesus’ sacrifice and ultimately His resurrection on Easter Sunday morning.
Lent begins on what is called Ash Wednesday. It is called Ash Wednesday because on that day at church the faithful have their foreheads marked with ashes in the shape of a cross. Since we don’t have a Wednesday gathering we do our Ashes on the Friday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Ashes are a biblical symbol of mourning and penance. It represents
a desire to sacrifice, ask for forgiveness, and remember our own sinfulness in which Jesus must die for.
The ashes are put in the shape of a cross to help us focus on the forgiveness that comes from the cross. Also in the Bible, a mark on the forehead is a symbol of a person's ownership. By having their foreheads marked with the sign of a cross, this symbolizes that the person belongs to Jesus Christ, who died on a Cross. We will be having a Ash ceremony at Waypoints on Friday March 3rd and Tuesday March 7th.
The Lent season goes on for 40 days. There is nothing magical about forty days, but there is something biblical about it. That’s the number of days Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting and praying. During those 40 days Jesus was tested like never before, but this experience set the stage for His greatest victories over the enemy. The war against sin and Satan may have been won on Calvary’s cross, but a key battle happened in the wilderness three years earlier. When Jesus returned to Galilee, He wasn’t the same person. You won’t be either. You’ll emerge from this forty-day prayer challenge, just like Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. If you want God to do something new in you, you cannot keep doing the same old thing. You have to do something different. And if you do, God will create new capacities within you. There will be new gifts and new revelations. But you’ve got to pray the price. You’ll get out of this what you put into it.
One of the other great traditions of Lent is not only a daily dedication to prayer and devotion, but also to fasting. Fasting is one of those activities that most of us don’t do and if we do it is usually for health or medical reasons not for spiritual reasons, but as we flip through the pages of the bible we will see people regularly fasting to improve their walk with God. Something happens when we fast that helps us connect with God. We even see Jesus fast as part of His connection with His Father. Fasting from something we love will help us to connect with God in a deeper more personal way.
Jesus fasted during his 40 days and nights in the wilderness. His fasting prepared Him for His next steps. Our fasting will do the same. Fasting is when you choose to abstain from an activity or practice. You literally stop doing something. It can be a food fast, or a fast from your favorite food. It can be to stop smoking, take a break from TV or Facebook, or an other activity that is important to you. The point is to sacrificially give up something that is important to you, in order for focus more on your relationship with God. In fact, that’s what the word sacrifice means. It means giving up something of value for something that has greater value. When you are fasting you are telling God He is more important than whatever you are giving up. Then when you are normally engaged in whatever you gave up, you spend that extra time praying, worshipping, listening or doing any activity that focuses you on Christ.
The struggle is, as Jesus puts it, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Is it ever! Never were truer words spoken. Most people have a willing spirit; it’s the weak flesh that gets in the way. The problem isn’t desire; the problem is power or more specifically, willpower. This is where fasting comes into play. Fasting gives you more power to pray because it’s an exercise in willpower. The physical discipline gives you the spiritual discipline to pray through. An empty stomach leads to a full spirit. The partnership of prayer and fasting will give you the power and willpower to pray through until you experience a breakthrough. Our sacrifice through fasting helps us to focus on Jesus’ sacrifice. Jesus sacrificed absolutely everything for us. What does God want you to sacrifice?
If you have taken time to actually count the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter you will realize that there are more then 40 days, so that might cause some confusion. The reason for this difference is because each week we are to rest. God tells us, (Exodus 31:15) “You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of complete rest, a holy day dedicated to the Lord.” Rest is supposed to be something we do regularly. Jesus tells us (Mark 2:27) “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people.”
So God called us to rest and rest was created for us, so why don’t we do it? As a culture we are always on the go. Some people still have a five day work week, but many now have a six day work week or even seven days. Then you add chores around the house, errands to run, kids sporting events, school actives, and don’t forget making it to church each week. Time just seems to fly by. We don’t have enough time to do everything we need to do, so the thought of resting just seems so unproductive.
The word Sabbath literally means “to catch one’s breath.” During the week we are emotionally, physically, and spiritual deflated like a tire with a slow leak. We become tired. The sabbath is intended to reinflate our spirits. When we take a day off to rest, play, and enjoy life God brings back our emotional, relational, and spiritual life. God resurrects those parts of us that have “died” throughout the week. So during the 40 days of Lent we “rest” or Sabbath once a week, usually on Sundays.
We take a rest, a Sabbath to refocus our hope, trust, and faith on God. How? One of the reasons we are always on the go doing whatever is because we are trying desperately to be in control of our life and our future. Much of what we are so busy doing is to try to make our lives more than they are now. We are attempting to take matters into our own hands and make them better. That desire is not all bad, but it can create in us the belief that we are in charge, that we don’t need God. It also can create in us the belief that all we have is because we have “earned” it, but that’s not true. All we have is a gift from our loving Father. When we take a day off we are reinforcing in our lives the belief that God has got this. I don’t have to kill myself by trying to do too much. God is in charge and I am going to trust Him to provide and guide my future.
In our impatience, we often try to do God’s job for Him. We treat Sabbath like a luxury instead of a commandment. We take a Sabbath only when it’s convenient, and then we discover that it’s never convenient. We work as though the world revolves around us and relies on us. Maybe it’s time to rest as though the world revolves around and relies on the Creator who hangs the stars and spins the planets.
Our hope and prayer is that during the Lenten seasons you will choose one, two, or even three items to fast from. You will do that fast for 40 days, taking a Sabbath break each week realigning yourself on Jesus and all that He has done and is doing in your life. We also want to encourage you to dive into our Lenten devotional which will be Rick Warren’t Daring Faith. Each Sunday we will post a video on our Facebook and Website for you to watch and then each day there will be a short devotional reading to help guide your prayer time.
To recap here are the steps.
- Come to one of the Ash Dedication Ceremonies
- Prayerfully choose what to fast from
- Watch the weekly videos
- Read the daily devotionals
- Pray daily and through out the day about what God has laid on your heart.
- Grow closer to Christ.
It is our hope and desire that this 40 days
will be a powerful time of you growing closer to Christ.